music stops abruptly
cricket song instead
July 18 is World Listening Day, I just learned. One of the principle purposes of World Listening Day is “to celebrate the practice of listening as it relates to the world around us, environmental awareness, and acoustic ecology . “ What a phenomenal idea! Just to celebrate the practice of listening is reason enough to note the day. It should be an international holiday!
As I write, I’m sitting on my porch, listening to our small waterfall and periodic rumbles of thunder, as an afternoon storm rolls in. A dove is cooing from somewhere in the yard. Beyond that, it’s still and warm and quiet.
Often my life is anything but quiet. In additional to my mother-in-law’s endless television viewing, there are airplanes on final approach, whirring air conditioners, growling lawn mowers, howling leaf blowers, rumbling motorcycles, the constant wash of cars along the distant highway, the screech of power tools of neighbors working on things, and even the relatively quiet but collectively loud hum of our electronics and appliances, create a daily crescendo of noise that can be hard to escape. Most of the time we’re inured to noise; we only notice it when it stops.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) calls noise “pollution” when it becomes “unwanted or disturbing sound”. “Sound becomes unwanted,” notes the EPA, with surprising eloquence,” when it either interferes with normal activities such as sleeping, conversation, or disrupts or diminishes one’s quality of life. The fact that you can’t see, taste or smell it may help explain why it has not received as much attention as other types of pollution, such as air pollution, or water pollution. The air around us is constantly filled with sounds, yet most of us would probably not say we are surrounded by noise. “
Among other things (like Noise Induced hearing Loss, or NIHL), excessive exposure to noise can cause stress related illnesses, high blood pressure, speech interference, hearing loss, sleep disruption, and lost productivity.
While I find excessive noise depressing and unsettling, I’m well aware that many people love being surrounded by artificial sounds. Silence, they’ve told me, is as unsettling to them as noise is to me. I find that intriguing. I suppose the sounds of television or radio chatter give the impression of companionship. And they probably conveniently keep at bay deeper ponderings on life and living.
But I find myself wondering, who wants that much companionship all the time? I think we need silence and solitude to truly enjoy opportunities for conversation and company. I think we miss a lot of real living when we don’t know how to be alone with ourselves, with the buzzings, and clickings and chirpings, and rustlings of the natural world. If we avoid thinking about difficult things, or doing truly useful things by distracting ourselves with temporal artificial sounds and vicarious experiences, how do we learn to distinguish what’s real and what’s not, what’s important and what’s gratuitous, what has meaning, and what has none? It’s only when we can fully hear ourselves, I think, that we can better listen to others.
When I go outside my soul expands! There are sounds out here – the thunder, the water, the doves, the lifting breeze through pine branches – but I can, quite literally, now hear myself think. Natural sounds are so very different from those we create, more rounded on the edges, less harsh on the ear. They leave room for thought, for reflection, for creativity, for creation.
Among the ways to celebrate World Listening Day is a Soundwalk , taken with the intent of both becoming more aware of environmental sounds, and of our own sounds of our breathing and footsteps and voices. But I don’t think we need to do anything as pointedly choreographed as the Soundwalk to benefit from a Listening Day. I think we just need to unplug and disconnect, and turn off everything for an hour or so, and indulge in a little Shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing , and let a little restorative sunshine and nature wash over us.
We might be surprised at what we hear when we actually stop to listen.